Create and share Music has never been easier, but promoting your work has never been so confusing. Should you focus on TikTok or Tour? And if you don’t have a lot of followers, is online advertising even worth it?
To crack the code, we spoke to indie musicians, marketers, trendsetters, and even a professor. While there’s no guaranteed recipe for success, we’ve found a wealth of tips and tricks for all types of musicians. Let’s dive in.
Get on playlists
Streaming is by far the most popular way to consume music today, and getting it on the right playlists can boost your music career. Although anyone can create a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music, only a small percentage have many followers. If you don’t have your own popular playlists, how can you get to the big ones?
Services like SubmitHub and Playlist Push let you submit to playlist creators, music bloggers, and social media influencers. SubmitHub has free and paid submission options, but Playlist Push is paid only. Playlists like IndieMono and Alexrainbirdmusic have free entries in a variety of genres. While Spotify doesn’t allow playlist owners to charge for inclusion, it seems to allow (or at least tolerate) submission fees.
Do these strategies work? Yes, but artists should be prepared to “go through a lot of rejections,” says Jonathan Teeter, frontman of Charlottesville, Virginia indie band Films on Song. A single entry from Playlister BIRP.FM resulted in over 10,000 streams for his band’s single “Ritual Day”. “Having to pay $1-3 to submit through SubmitHub isn’t ideal, but knowing what blogs and influencers like what can help.”
Rejection is part of the game, and it’s important to keep your head up. “Music is art. Art is tough,” says KCRW radio DJ Jason Kramer, who was one of the first trendsetters to discover Billie Eilish and Finneas. “Artists just have to be themselves. Play something they have to play,” he continues, “Take risks, don’t be afraid.”
Create your own playlists
You don’t have to rely on someone else’s playlist to listen. On both Spotify and Apple Music, if a playlist is public, anyone can find and follow it. The exact algorithms aren’t public, but playlists with names based on iconic lyrics, new albums, locations, or feelings (e.g., “New York Autumn Vibes”) occasionally seem to work well on Spotify even for users without existing followers . Seemingly without trying, some users have created playlists that garner thousands of listeners. Artists can post their favorite playlists on their artist profile, gain new followers and showcase their favorite tracks. Apple Music doesn’t display a playlist follower count, making it harder to judge what strategies are working there.
What playlists are you on? The Apple Music for Artists and Spotify for Artists apps give you the number of songs playing, information about playlists you’ve been added to, and other helpful information.
Use resources from streaming services
Apple Music for Artists has a page with tips and tools for promoting your work. You can even create your own QR code linked to your song or album. Spotify has a similar resource called Code Maker, and they even explain how to submit songs for inclusion in playlists. SoundCloud also has a tips page to help creators monetize and promote their music. QR codes that link to streaming or social media are great for attaching stickers, posters, or other promotional materials.
Collaborate on tracks and covers
Features and collaborative songs are perhaps the most prevalent in hip-hop, but no matter the genre, they can be a great way to expand your audience. For example, indie rock band Surfer Blood released an EP called Hard boiled, in which other artists covered their songs. The tracks appeared on Surfer Blood’s page in addition to the pages of the artists who created the covers, maximizing visibility for all.
Covering a popular song can be another great way to attract new listeners. This article isn’t legal advice, but remember, if you cover a song, you have to pay royalties to whoever wrote the song. Luckily, services like DistroKid can do that for you.
Maintain your image
Social media has become so important to music promotion that even artists who died decades ago have an active Instagram presence. While it’s a powerful tool for artists, music influencer Ari Elkins warns artists not to neglect their music. “Growing thousands of followers on TikTok is exciting, but it’s critical that those followers are there for your music and not just for viral unrelated videos that have nothing to do with you as an artist.”
While social media can lead to success, the game is always changing. Cehryl, a Hong Kong-based indie pop artist, started out uploading self-recorded tracks to SoundCloud and now has a record deal and over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. But she cautioned that what worked before may not work now. “If I were starting from scratch today, I wouldn’t be starting at SoundCloud. I would just distribute it on all streaming platforms and mostly promote it on Instagram.”
What strategies should you use when on TikTok or Instagram? “It’s about more than just likes,” says Kas Robinson, a social media strategist in Sydney, Australia, who notes that social media algorithms consider various factors such as “time spent on your content, engagement -Rate and number of shares and saves. ” If you’re not sure what to do, Kas recommends that you just go for it. “Give yourself a starting position and work to improve your content over time.”